At the beginning of COVID-19, online classes were quickly organised – with confusion among teachers and mixed results for students. However, in some regions, Aga Khan Schools quickly transitioned to “virtual learning” that provided students with an engaging, developmentally appropriate learning experience as similar as possible to the in-person programme.
The schedule was broken down into online synchronous classes and asynchronous sessions that involved tasks students could do at home at their convenience. Timetables were meticulously planned, keeping in mind aspects such as appropriate screen time, availability of devices and the schedule of student’s siblings. Teachers with good exposure to technology were appointed as Technology Mentors to support their colleagues overcome the challenges of working online.
Indeed, the new “virtual learning” systems seemed complicated and confusing in the beginning. But today, after being in lockdown for more than 100 days, AKES in India has been able to respond to the various challenges that have come its way. Academic and non-academic staff are working more effectively and collaboratively. Staff are now better able to balance their “work from home” with the “work for home”. This period also saw increased communication between staff members who help each other remotely, connect regularly, share best practices frequently and move ahead steadily with a positive, can-do attitude.
Mamta Murjani, a teacher-coordinator at one of the Aga Khan Schools, talked about her experience working from home: “100 days of work from home was like 100 learnings – like 100 laps of a race, clearing each one, by being a winner or a learner. It has taught me survival skills, both individually and professionally.”
Teachers recognised that the students could be nervous, uneasy and stressed by the uncertainty of these unprecedented times. It was always a priority to keep the classes positive and share messages on how to stay safe during COVID-19. To engender a happy environment, many online sessions included yoga, art, dance and other physical workshops. Activities such as cooking, making “fragrance bottles” and constructing musical instruments helped strengthen the bonds between parents and children. Environment Day and Earth Day were celebrated. Students did activities to increase awareness about protecting Mother Earth. International Yoga Day and Father’s day coincided with students engaging in yoga sessions with their dads.
Understanding the pressure on educators, AKES in India employed various initiatives to regularly engage with staff to bring a positive mindset and support their wellbeing. Regular positive messaging made staff aware of the pandemic and how to take care of their physical and mental health. The initiative, “AKES,I Got Talent”, received a tremendous response with staff showing their talent and skills. For many, it was reliving a childhood passion for the arts, décor, music, dance, culinary skills, poems and painting. In the “Work from Home Selfie Contest”, the teachers and staff showcased their approaches to remote working, whilst the leaders spoke about balancing their professional and family commitments, encouraging others to adopt these as best practices.
Outreach work in a couple of external residential schools also continued, with support provided in the form of teaching resources, vacation packs, and curated content to enrich their distance learning programme. AKES in India has also been supporting other Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) agencies. Several volunteers at the Aga Khan Preschool have made and distributed more than 5,000 masks to the underprivileged in their communities.
Sentiments about what teachers have been doing during the pandemic are captured by a parent, who says, "An inspirer, an engager and an empowerer. These are a few words to describe the teachers for their unconditional support and cooperation during this difficult period.”
This text was adapted from a story published on the Aga Khan Schools website.